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Bloomberg's Presidential Bid May Upend Democrat's Nominating Contest

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How, if at all, can Michael Bloomberg change the presidential campaign? The former New York mayor, former Republican, former independent and current billionaire used an ad to explain his late-breaking entry into the race.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPOKESPERSON: Mike Bloomberg for president - jobs creator, leader, problem solver. It's going to take all three to build back a country.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Funny thing is, everything in that ad Michael Bloomberg could have said six months ago, a year ago, but at that time, he was saying he wasn't going to get into the presidential race.

LIASSON: That's right. But things have changed. Back then, he thought Joe Biden would be a strong candidate, and I think Bloomberg's theory of the case now is both the leading left-wing and centrist candidates are not electable. Elizabeth Warren - he thinks too far to the left to win a general election, especially when she came out with her mandatory "Medicare for All" plan that would get - do away with private health insurance for 160 million people.

And as far as Joe Biden, there are a lot of worries among Democrats about whether he can perform and raise money. That's really been the impetus for Bloomberg's entry. I think for a lot of Democrats, the idea of Joe Biden, an experienced centrist candidate, was appealing. The reality of Joe Biden has been disappointing. And of course, Biden is the person who has the most to fear from a Bloomberg candidacy if it takes off.

INSKEEP: So here's another guy from Biden's generation. He's 77 years old. He has positioned himself as a centrist. In fact, he's been, I mean, Democrat, Republican, independent, mayor of New York. What's his strategy, though, for getting into the race, having started relatively late?

LIASSON: Well, it's very unorthodox. The idea is that he wouldn't compete till single - Super Tuesday, when there's a lot of states that vote all at once. He'd basically skip Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Of course, after those states, television spending counts a lot more. You can't visit every county and meet a lot of voters one-on-one. And he has the money to spend on television ads. He's already spending over $30 million.

Of course, one of the problems with his strategy is that he probably won't be on any debate stages since the rules so far have required a certain number of contributions from a certain number of people, and he is self-funded.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm trying to figure out, though - I mean, he's a very prominent guy. He's been politically active. But is there a big constituency of Americans out there chanting Bloomberg, Bloomberg?

LIASSON: Well, we're not seeing that in the polls yet. And of course, some of the other candidates are saying he's just another billionaire trying to buy the nomination. He's also taken some controversial positions in the past that now he is having to adjust. One of them was stop and frisk, this idea of the New York Police Department stopping and frisking some people of color in New York City. And in 2013, a federal judge said that that violated their constitutional rights.

Recently, Bloomberg said - apologized for that, saying, I got something wrong. I got something important really wrong. I didn't understand that, back then, the full impact that stop and frisks were having on the black and Latino communities. I was totally focused on saving lives, but as we know, good intentions aren't good enough - so Bloomberg trying to adjust some of his positions that are not popular in a Democratic primary.

INSKEEP: Very briefly - what's the standing of some of the other candidates that he wants to catch up to?

LIASSON: Well, I think Biden still is the national front-runner - very vulnerable. Elizabeth Warren seems to have plateaued. And Pete Buttigieg, who surged in both Iowa and New Hampshire, still has zero - zero - support among African Americans in South Carolina.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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